2018 Yard Tour: A Definite Success!

by Tammy Brown

Thank you for a great 2018 Wildlife-Friendly Yards Tour!

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The weather was sunny and warm, and made for another wonderful tour this year.  Every yard had a constant stream of visitors throughout the day.  Having sold 137 tickets, attendance was up from last year’s rainy day, and made a very successful and fun tour.  We had had so many wonderful people working behind the scenes for months to bring it all together.  Everyone’s contributions and outstanding efforts are very much appreciated.

Special thanks to the Tallahassee Democrat for publishing our article and pictures on the front page of the Chronicle.  There is no doubt this helped increase awareness and introduced some new people to our yard tour tradition.  Another special thanks to Native Nurseries and Wild Birds Unlimited.  Once again they have graciously acted as our ticket outlets as well as promoted the event, and we couldn’t pull this off without them!

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Our deep appreciation goes to our five outstanding yard hosts this year, who shared their homes and knowledge with friends and strangers.  They truly went above and beyond!

Upon arriving at Pat and Mike Meredith’s, there was a steady steam of visitors up and down the back yard to the edge of Lake Jackson.  Spotting scopes, courtesy of Sally & Dean Jue, Jim Cavanagh, and Ed Woodruff, made for excellent water bird viewing.  A total of 6 Limpkins were seen throughout the day, which we would have been unable to detect them without the scopes.  Truly a unique experience!

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Just a short distance away in Hunter’s Crossing was Susan and Clay Thompson’s bird sanctuary.  They graciously offered inside viewing (along with snacks and drinks!) from their bird window, offering a close-up view of their feeder station with the neighborhood pond as a back-drop.  Upon arriving, a hawk was perched in a tree close by and an egret was at the water’s edge.  One of the day’s volunteers, Jake Hartung, counted 23 species of birds while he was there!

Over in Killearn Susan Cason’s yard offers a wonderful retreat for wildlife. Many feeders, nesting boxes, native plants and a water feature attract a wide variety of birds to her yard year-round.  Viewing from her back yard featured a beautiful over-all view, while meandering around the back yard offered many inviting nooks and benches to relax and enjoy the native plantings and closer view of the many songbirds in this active yard.  Susan’s knowledge and experience no doubt enhanced her guests’ visits and viewing.

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A quick few-minute drive to Rob Williams and Lynn Peterson’s yard in Foxcroft also yielded many native plants along with their bird feeders and baths.  Rob put together a wealth of information and an identification system for his native plants that everyone enjoyed and learned from.  Rob and Lynn’s passion, enjoyment and knowledge of native plants and trees made for plenty of interesting conversation.  Many guests also enjoyed a short walk in the woods at the back of the property, as well as the many turkey vultures that regularly gather overhead toward the end of the day.

I think a lot of us are familiar with Glenda Simmons’ home, most famous for her numerous bluebirds and orioles. Glenda was a yard host in 2011, when she had recently landscaped with native plantings.  The plants have grown beautifully and are a perfect backdrop for her bird feeding stations and bird baths, and provide areas of shelter for the numerous birds on her property.  Glenda graciously made a beautiful display of photos of all her orioles, introducing them by name.  Yes, they are named, and each one is quite fitting!  A fun ending to a wonderful day with some great people.

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Heartfelt thanks go to all our wonderful yard volunteers, too!  They certainly helped the visitors have a friendly and informative visit, and we couldn’t do it without you.  Our yard volunteers this year were Adrienne Ruhl, Dee Wilder, Fran Rutkovsky, Michael Tucker, JoAnne Harrington, Diane Sigler, Diane Quigg, Pat Teaf, Helen King, Jan Blue, Karen Wensing, Kathleen Carr, Judy Goldman, Jake Hartung, Ann Bruce, Holly Thomas, Sally Jue, Dean Jue, Jim Cavanagh, and Ed Woodruff.

With all the fun and success, we are already thinking about next year’s tour, so please keep it in mind if you know anyone who would be a good yard host or volunteer to be a part of this wonderful experience. 

Again, my deepest thanks to all for your contributions, each one of you was a vital part to the enjoyment and success of this year’s tour!

India and Nepal...We Somehow Did It

By Peter Kleinhenz

Where to begin? Perhaps I should start with where I went, and why. Last December, I traveled to northern India and southern Nepal with a girl I knew well enough to go abroad with but, really, not well enough to go abroad with. We went anyway. 

The goal was wildlife and experiences. Boy, did we have plenty of both. Our route essentially took us on a circuit through north-central India and through the southwestern corner of Nepal. Though we had a lot of "target species", money was never in abundance. We decided to skip the organized tour route and do our own thing. When I describe what we were able to see with this strategy, you may be tempted to try it. When I describe the hardships, you may call your nearest tour operator.

 Typical street scene in north-central India

Typical street scene in north-central India

Driving through India is akin to a real-life Frogger with the decibels of a rock show blaring at you in the form of car horns at all times. The wildlife portion of our trip began when we left smoggy, grimy New Delhi and arrived at Ranthambore National Park. Here, we observed brown fish owls, Indian peafowl, dusky eagle owl, and plum-headed parakeets to name just a few of the many birds spotted while on safari. I was fortunate to get an up-close look at a massive female Bengal tiger that absolutely blew my mind. These sightings, combined with gray langurs, mugger crocodiles, mongoose, wild boar, and two deer species all amidst orange-tan tropical dry forest, made up for all of the hassles that came before it. 

 Indian peafowl forage among a disturbed area within Ranthambore National Park, India

Indian peafowl forage among a disturbed area within Ranthambore National Park, India

I'll spare you details about the next leg of the trip, considering that it involves some highs (Taj Mahal, shooting stars over the mountains of central India) and some lows (trip to the hospital and a police officer beating up our driver while demanding payment, cancelled train). But, stopping to look at a flock of sarus cranes in a field north of Lucknow, India while Indian rollers perched on powerlines overhead made up for any headaches acquired previously. 

 Chital deer eye us suspiciously while on safari in Bardia National Park, Nepal

Chital deer eye us suspiciously while on safari in Bardia National Park, Nepal

Then we were in Nepal. I can't stress enough how amazing southwestern Nepal is. We purposefully avoided areas where tourists/organized tour groups generally go, and we were so glad that we did. Sure, it was somewhat expensive to get to the Bardia Homestay in middle-of-nowhere Nepal on our own. And, yeah, we probably could have seen more species. But the species we did see, and encounters we had seeing them were unforgettable, unique, and amazing.

 Scanning for Ganges River Dolphins along the Karnali River, Nepal

Scanning for Ganges River Dolphins along the Karnali River, Nepal

Here are some highlights of wildlife viewing in Nepal:

  • Watching a greater racket-tailed drongo as it perched one tree away from two lesser racket-tailed drongos
  • Sitting on a tributary of the Karnali River, watching a crested serpent eagle hunt for food
  • Standing in awe after a park ranger spotted a jungle owlet off in the distance in a tree
  • Seeing my first Indian rhino crossing a river in front of us
  • Crouching next to the Karnali River while a critically-endangered Ganges River dolphin surfaced repeatedly in an eddy 25 yards away

Did we climb any Himalayan peaks? No. Did we check off every species of bird known from Bardia or Ranthambore National Parks? Definitely not. What we did do is have the trip of a lifetime that, despite some very real challenges, rewarded us in ways we are still realizing months later. Besides, the privilege of seeing some of that wildlife is something that, at least to me, is worth almost anything. I've never felt more motivated to work in the field of wildlife conservation and to continue traveling, in order to see what other wonders this world has to offer. 

 Tiffany and I after receiving our farewell blessing on our last morning of the trip, Nepal

Tiffany and I after receiving our farewell blessing on our last morning of the trip, Nepal


    Over 70? You Can Help The Birds of St. Vincent NWR With Little Effort!

    By Marylyn Fever

    I have one of my IRA's at Vanguard Mutual Funds.   Being over 70 1/2 years old I am required to take what is called required minimum distribution (RMD), the entire amount subject to federal income tax..  However (one of the few perks left for being old), anyone 70.5 years and older  may have a check(s) made out to an IRS listed 501 (c) (3) organization, which Friends of St. Vincent NWR is.  I am having Vanguard make out a check for the amount of my contribution to "Friends of St. Vincent NWR".   I can have Vanguard mail that to the Friends at PO Box 69, Apalachicola, FL 32329 or mail that check to me.   I am having them mail this check and other checks to other 501 (c) (3) organizations so I can make a copy of the checks as confirmation of these donations.  Vanguard will also be sending me a confirmation statement.  

    In January 2019, I will receive a 1099-R from Vanguard, indicating that I have made the required distribution. (Failure to make the required distribution will result in a hefty tax penalty.)  On my 1040 tax form next year where the form asks for IRA (qualified plans) distributions, I will enter the amount on the 1099-R.   However, since I made a contribution to a 501 (c) (3), I note the amount of the qualified distribution on that line and on another line the actual taxable distribution amount is reduced.  

    Even though I have a confirmation from Vanguard noting the qualified distribution, having copies of the checks with the names of the 501 (c) (3) entities names is backup documentation should I ever get audited.  Vanguard assures me that this is in the law for 2018.  

    We, older seniors, can use it as a donating strategy for gifts to all 501 (c) (3) organizations.  The  taxes we save can be considerable  (multiply the aggregate qualified charitable contributions  x tax rate and that's your savings).

    If you're in that small group who believes that you should pay your share of taxes, donate that savings and consider it as a redirection of your tax to more socially or environmentally directed purposes.   

    Not all IRA providers may allow this; although the only problem I see is that some may establish a minimum amount they would cut a check for. 

    Audubon Members Take South City Children to St. Marks NWR

    By Elizabeth Platt

         On Saturday, November 18, Apalachee Audubon member Madhu Nepal and I took the Hewitt children (of AAS banquet fame) and their mother to the SMNWR for a birding expedition.  Their behavior at the refuge reflected skills and attitudes modeled by AAS birders Judy, Peter, Rob and Dee.  My most memorable moment of the morning was when, having spied the vermillion flycatcher on the pier at East River Pool, they tiptoed slowly, silently out to see him, five abreast.  Joyously, they continued to follow his movements – from pier to reeds and back again. 

         On the 25th I took four children from the Luhembwe family to the refuge.  These refugee children, born in Southeastern Congo, had never been birding before, and they were very excited to be there.  At three or four stops along the way they were helped to look through the scopes and binoculars of kind strangers and, later on at Picnic Pond, Ted and Mary Ellen Greenwald photographed us and later sent the photos, along with an invitation to visit the butterfly jungle in Gainesville. The sighting of the vermillion flycatcher, a pair of white-winged doves, eleven wood storks in trees near the road, and the eagles at their nest were all noteworthy.  For the children though, it was seeing  two alligators that made the day!

    Finding A Groove

    By Peter Kleinhenz

    The second visit to Pineview Elementary went much smoother than the first. The third to fifth grade students seemed genuinely excited to have us back. This time, we had a FAMU student, Niles Morrow, join us and Harvey Goldman joined as well.

    We took the students to a classroom so that they could decorate name tags that we made for them. Judy provided sheets that showed the kids how to draw birds, and many of them created excellent bird designs on their name tags. It's important that we get to know these kids and name tags are an essential piece of that.

    Judy and Harvey showed the kids a live eagle cam next. They loved it! The eagles just so happened to land immediately in front of the camera, and could be seen curiously investigating it as the kids watched in awe. I would not be surprised if none of the kids have seen a wild eagle before. You could tell that they were taken aback by this impressive animal. 

    We split the kids in groups and took them outside. Half of them went to a table Betsy Sullivan had set up that allowed them to participate in "Fill-the-Bill". The lesson shows students a variety of food items and different types of "bird bills" shown via common utensils such as spoons, tongs, and droppers. The students had bird cards that they then had to match with certain kinds of bills.

    The other group located actual birds and photos of birds through binoculars. The students are definitely getting proficient at their use, and we are still so grateful for generous Apalachee Audubon donations in addition to the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to give the kids a chance to use them. Many kids could name some of the bird species they observed, and some even told me what kinds of foods they eat based on their bill shape! 

     Relocated bird feeders. 

    Relocated bird feeders. 

    Donna Legare and one of her employees from Native Nurseries moved the bird feeders at Pineview to a better location, and some kids playing on the playground stopped by to help. Now, the feeders are in a location more conducive to bird activity and have enough food to last them quite awhile.

    The program just keeps getting better. I, for one, can't wait until next time.



    Field Trip to Spring Canyon

    by Peter Kleinhenz

    An eastern phoebe provided the introductory music to the field trip last Sunday at Spring Canyon, located near Torreya State Park. Seventeen Audubon members joined landowners Helen and Tom Roth to your their 100 acres of Apalachicola uplands. 

     Restored longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands on Helen and Tom Roth's property.

    Restored longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands on Helen and Tom Roth's property.

    Helen spearheaded restoration efforts on her land, seeking to return the ecosystems back to what they were before fire suppression, logging, and invasive species took their toll there (and almost everywhere else in Florida). Helen toured us around areas where she had been burning, planting longleaf pines, pulling invasive plants, and cutting trees that had invaded what once were open, park-like forests.

     The group prepares to embark on an exploration of Spring Canyon

    The group prepares to embark on an exploration of Spring Canyon

    The birds were surprisingly inconspicuous, but we were still able to locate many interesting wildlife species. A grizzled mantis scuttled up the trunk of a longleaf pine. Ground skinks, green anoles, and eastern fence lizards gave us regular forest-floor entertainment. While exploring the edge of an impoundment, the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen (and I've seen plenty) slowly slithered away from us.

     A blurry photo of the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen. It was approximately 3.5 feet long. 

    A blurry photo of the largest cottonmouth I've ever seen. It was approximately 3.5 feet long. 

    Steepheads on the property supported Appalachian plants such as mountain laurel and Matalea alabamensis, along with interesting species such as Apalachicola dusky salamanders (I observed five on Sunday). In addition, they offered relief which was apparent when we stopped at an eroded cliff face and when Helen kindly warned me to stay back from the edge of the cliff while we were hiking. 

     An imperiled plant, Matalea alabamensis, grows on the edge of a steephead.

    An imperiled plant, Matalea alabamensis, grows on the edge of a steephead.

    Landowners like Tom and Helen, in many respects, represent the future of conservation. We can protect all the public land we want but, with a growing population, what people do in their own backyards will dictate the survival of many species. I found it inspiring to see people dedicate their lives to helping our world. 

    Pineview Pilot Program

    By Peter Kleinhenz

    On October 20, several Audubon members (David Arnold, Betsy Sullivan, Elizabeth Platt, Judy Goldman, and myself) began our first birding lesson at Pineview Elementary School. Armed with boxes of binoculars, including several donated by generous members among our ranks, the teachers set off to chip away at a seemingly-impossible task: connect youth who generally have little exposure to wild places to the wonders of the nature immediately around them.


    The group assembled binoculars, got materials together, and rapidly understood that this school was going to be different than the schools many of us are used to. Still, we were wearing smiles as we first met the students.

    We taught to the third and fourth grade after school programs. Elizabeth and I gave an overview of the Apalachee Audubon Society and an introduction of why we cared about getting the students into birding. Peter made a new friend when he asked a particularly-squirrelly young man to stand next to him until everyone went outside, but most students were attentive. 

    We went outside and split into groups. The generosity of our members and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allowed most students to have their own pair of binoculars. Each group was given instructions on how to sight objects, focus, and remain stable while looking through the binoculars. The students are used to outside being play time, so getting them to listen and follow directions was . . . a challenge. However, most students were able to successfully find objects through binoculars by the end of the lesson. I, for one, challenged students to read from a sign on the other side of the school yard. Put a competition in front of young kids (particularly boys) and you'd be surprised how quickly they get into it!

    A few groups were able to play a migration game, where students threw beanbags labeled as various birds at rings that represented refuges along the three North American flyways. Students learned the value of these refuges since, if they missed the rings, they perished. 

    Overall, our goal was to keep the kids active and having fun, while possibly learning a thing or two. The teaching wasn't easy, but they're kids. And they're kids that don't have many of the opportunities you and I have been blessed with. As we move forward throughout the school year, we have a sizable challenge ahead of us. But, I'd argue, it's as worthwhile a cause as any when it comes to creating the next generation that cares about Florida's precious natural heritage. It's at least what keeps me going.

    We'd love to see you out there. It's not easy, but I guarantee that you'll feel like you helped at least one child move closer to an understanding about nature. Please get in touch with me at pnkleinhenz@gmail.com if you're interested. 

    Documenting Birds...Underground?!

     Cave entrance in Aucilla WMA

    Cave entrance in Aucilla WMA

    By Peter Kleinhenz

    Aucilla Wildlife Management Area (WMA( occupies over 50,000 acres of Jefferson County, just a few miles east of the Tallahassee city limits. The area contains well-managed upland forest, pine flatwoods, much of the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers, and...caves. Lots and lots of caves.

    The substrate sits atop a bed of limestone, a porous mineral susceptible to the carving powers of water. This is evidenced by the many karst features found in this WMA.

    I love caving. It's probably my favorite thing to do, but it isn't always conducive to birding. However, every once in a great while, two of my favorite hobbies can be combined into one. That was the case a couple of months ago when I joined my friend, Matthew Bull, from the Flint River Grotto, a local caving club, to search for caves in a remote part of the WMA.

    The heat was oppressive as we bushwhacked through thorn bushes and dense vegetation. As no cave materialized, I began to lose my patience.

    "Matt, are you positive about the direction we're going?" I asked. "It seems like we've been going in circles."

    And, it turned out, we were. Now, normally, this would not have been a huge deal, if a little inconvenient. But we had already reached wits' end. Earlier, Matt had looked down at his pants and noticed hundreds of crawling arachnids. No, these weren't ticks as he originally thought. I knew better. These were chiggers. 

    The pace picked up and the caves seemed less important now. Still, we were determined. I began to notice small exposures of limestone here and there, and my cave sense began to tingle. Sure enough, the entrance to the largest of the caves we were to visit that day was less than thirty feet away.

     What would a cave be without giant spiders?

    What would a cave be without giant spiders?

    I peered into the hole that disappeared into the side of a sinkhole. The water levels were too high to go very deep, but I poked around the entrance. Unusually, the water was crystal-clear. This meant that the water in this cave was directly tied to the water table and not the underground Aucilla River that flowed somewhere under our feet nearby. I peered around the mossy crevices associated with the entrance. A large fishing spider scuttled away into one deep crevice. A southern cricket frog leaped into a pool of water. And then I saw something shocking.

    In an upper crevice of the entrance passage, I spotted a nest. This nest was composed of moss and short twigs, and had a perfectly-round shape. I knew immediately what it was: the nest of an Eastern Phoebe.

    Now, this may not seem that unusual. We see Eastern Phoebes all the time. But, according to FWC cave research, Jonathan Mays, only six nests have been documented in the state in recent times. All of these were in cave entrances in Jackson County, near Florida Caverns State Park. We had talked previously about the possibility of phoebes nesting in other Florida caves but, until that day, that was just a theory.

     First documented nest of an Eastern Phoebe in Jefferson County, Florida.

    First documented nest of an Eastern Phoebe in Jefferson County, Florida.

    Matt and I were both excited but had other things on our mind at this point, namely the hundreds of chiggers actively creating hardened feeding tubes in our flesh. We found our way back to our vehicles, drove to a boat landing on the Wacissa River, and jumped into the cool, spring-fed river with our clothes on.

    We checked in with each other a few days later. Yes, we were both covered in chiggers. No, they were not getting better. But, hey, at least we found a phoebe nest. Birding brings out the best of any occasion, it seems.  

    Florida Forever Writing Campaign Info and Tips

    We are asking members of Apalachee Audubon to join us in writing letters to our elected representatives, requesting that the Florida Forever funds we voted to be used for land acquisition to...be used for land acquisition.

    Here are some points to consider when drafting your letter:

    • A short letter is better than no letter at all.
    • Be personal. Share examples of how this will effect you, and your family.
    • If you cite facts, back them up.
    • Tie environmental issues back to economics and jobs. 
    • State that you plan to talk to others and spread the word about this issue among other constituents. 
    • Sending a letter is better than an email, but both can be effective. 
    • You may not receive an original response, but that does not mean that your letter had no impact.

    Our Legislative Delegation:                                         % of district, yes on Amendment 1

    Senator Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee                           71.03%
    410 Senate Office Building
    604 South Monroe Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32399
    (850) 487-5003

    Representative Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee       78.22%
    1001 The Capitol
    402 South Monroe Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
    (850) 717-5008

    Representative Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee            74,0%
    1001 The Capitol
    402 South Monroe Street
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
    (850) 717-5009

    Representative Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello             59.16%
    1305 West Washington Street
    Monticello, FL 32344-1130
    (850) 342-0016


    More information on Florida Forever and talking points to include in your letter can be found here.

    Birding On A Deeper Level

    By Don Morrow

    Sometimes birding is more than just listing the species that you see. It includes paying attention to how birds behave. Recently, I was surveying shorebirds on Stony Bayou I at St. Marks NWR and had already made my way halfway around the pool. I saw a group of about a hundred shorebirds and finished counting the nearby Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers. I turned my attention to a large group of peeps and noticed that all of the previously counted peeps from the other side of the pool were flying in to join them. Suddenly, all the peeps took off.

    Now, when shorebirds take flight, there is probably a reason. It could be that the tide is changing the water depth or a potential predator is flying overhead. I watched as the peeps scattered in twisting murmurations.  In this case, their flight turned out to be due to a fast-closing Peregrine Falcon. Always good to look up.

    Looking for the closer plovers, I noted that they hadn’t flown. The Semipalmated Plovers had gone belly deep in the mud; keeping a low profile. The Black-bellied Plovers had been walking in shallow water and had crouched as low in the water as they could without resorting to snorkels. The plovers’ strategy had been to hide and let the peeps get chased by the Peregrine.

    Continuing my shorebird survey, I made my way down to the lighthouse. I could see that there was a group of larger mixed shorebirds out on the salt flats to the East of Lighthouse Pool. I parked and walked up the stairs of the viewing platform just as a Peregrine Falcon (probably the same bird, it had the same juvenile Tundra plumage) flew in low over the salt marsh. It was late afternoon and with the sun at my back the falcon was spectacular.  I tracked it through my binoculars as it swooped low over the salt marsh and flew away. When I looked for the shorebirds, most had flown. There were Willets frozen in place that had not moved. As I watched, six Black-bellied Plovers flew in and landed.

    Now, I believe that the Plovers had been part of the group of shorebirds that I had seen before the Peregrine arrived. This time of the year, Black-bellied Plovers can usually be found on those flats. Why hadn’t they hunkered down like the plovers that I had observed earlier? I had seen no peeps with this group. Does a plover’s threat assessment include available decoys? Did the Willets rely on the plovers to distract the Peregrine?

    I don’t have any answers. However, observing bird behavior and confronting challenging questions does as much to keep me birding as the thrill of finding uncommon species.